The FP Interview: Alaa Al Aswany

Egypt's foremost novelist reflects on a year of revolution.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for TFF
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for TFF

On how, as a writer, he became involved with the Tahrir Square protests:

"My concept of the novelist is that he must stay all the time with the people. Writing is the defense of human values. When people are in the streets facing death, you cannot stay in your house. You must be with the people."

"I participated from the beginning as a writer, not a politician. I have no political ambition. I was really inspired. It has been a unique experience in my life. I wrote the words ‘the people’ many times in my articles and in my novels. But the first time I felt I knew the meaning of ‘the people’ was during the revolution."

"I had many prestigious awards in literature, but I would say that the biggest award I had was during the revolution. I met young protesters who said to me, ‘We are here because of what you wrote,’ and I was really honored by that."

On writing fiction vs. political argument:

"I try to keep myself all the time responding to what’s happening in Egypt [in my political articles], but not in fiction. Fiction needs to be much more profound. You cannot write a novel while you are really angry because you must keep your ability to remember how angry you were. And this is a very different situation. If you are really angry, you write an article.

But I use the tactics of fiction inside my political articles, and it works very well. I don’t write only to convince people but really to influence their emotion."

On how the Egyptian people have changed since the revolution:

"Absolutely, Egyptians have changed. Egyptians are no longer the Egyptians who were ruled by Mubarak. When you overcome the barrier of fear, you become a better person — a much better person, as a matter of fact — and it is irreversible."

On his upcoming novel:

"I have been writing a novel for the past three years. I took five months off for the revolution, but I hope to have it for the beginning of the year. It is called The Automobile Club of Egypt. It is about Egypt in the 1940s."

On the possibility of writing a novel about the Arab Spring:

"Yes, absolutely. But I need my distance to imagine my feelings, not just write them."

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